Primary season has begun and many exit polls report that people say they are voting for a particular candidate because they are angry. A recent New York Times editorial proclaimed that this is the year of the angry voter. How many times have we heard Donald J. Trump say “Our country is being run by incompetent people and until we fix it, I am very, very, very angry.” Bernie Sanders is angry too: “I am angry. The American people are angry.”
It’s surprising that so many of the angriest voters identify with communities of faith, since the Book of Psalms constantly admonishes us to stop being angry. By what logic can the devout commit the sin of anger and resist the call of the virtues of forgiveness and understanding – and acting pro-actively to ameliorate the cause of their anger?
The Bible is filled with stories of vengeance, wrath and angry people. Even Moses, the greatest Prophet of them all, finds himself spiritually compromised after he succumbs to anger after the constant complaining of his people. If Moses is able to express such unbridled anger, and he is the greatest of the Prophets, can we deduce that perhaps it is not such a great transgression to be saddled with anger?
The Reverend Amy Butler at New York’s Riverside Church suggests that there are really two kinds of anger. The first is the kind of anger that is the fruit of our own egos. The second type of anger is focused outward toward the injustice of the world. In other words, it’s one thing to be angry because you don’t like one of the moderators at your debate. It’s totally another to be angry because you think, for instance, that the whole electoral process is rigged to benefit the wealthy. The latter kind of anger can be a force and possible first step on the road to change.
According to Talmudic rabbis, when a person is quick to lose his or her temper, that person’s life is not worthy living, since that individual is always miserable. The anger breeds and incites even more anger and animosity – which is not at all productive.
It is disappointing to see the verbal fighting and anger that is expressed during this year’s Presidential debates which sometimes seems totally out of control. Angry egotistical leaders are not true leaders. Leaders who deserve respect are those who truly love their people, understand them, and respond to their troubles with compassion. Ultimately, leadership is not about an ego trip or about seeking personal honor. It is about having a vision that is worth putting into action and making clear plans to enact it.
Perhaps we should all heed one of the most interesting statements that appears in the Talmud in Eruvin 65b: “A person’s character can be judged by the way he/she handles three things: one’s drink, one’s money and one’s anger.” Let us harness the passion that is expressed through anger and turn it into positive energy to improve the world.